Overview of Alternate Media

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Because your child's visual impairment affects the way she is able to read and write and get other information from her environment, she will need to use different methods for obtaining the information that other children get in print or otherwise using vision. The term "alternate media" or "alternate formats" refers to the variety of different ways your child might gain access to information in print.

If your child has low vision, she may read print in the same way her sighted peers do (see How Students with Low Vision Read and Write). Or, she may read print using optical devices such as a magnifier, monocular, or closed-circuit television system (CCTV), which magnify the print in different ways. Some children will benefit from using large-print materials; however studies have shown that for most students with low vision, the use of regular print with optical aids or braille is more efficient than reading large print.

For most children who are blind, braille is the primary alternate media that they will use for reading and writing (see How Students Who Are Blind Read and Write). Your child's classroom teacher and teacher of students with visual impairments will need to work together closely so that the teacher of students with visual impairments can provide your child with the same material in braille that her sighted peers have in print.

Many children with visual impairments use auditory information to supplement either print or braille material. Today, many textbooks and books read for pleasure are available in audio format on CD and, increasingly, in digital formats. If your child attends college, she'll find auditory books more readily available than books in braille, so learning to use books on CD or to listen to and understand audio information through a computer or through an accessible personal digital assistant (PDA) is important.

The teacher of students with visual impairments will determine your child's primary learning medium, or method of obtaining information—whether print, large print, or braille. The teacher will also determine what method or methods will supplement your child's primary medium (print, large print, braille, or audio), using a process called a learning media assessment. We all use a variety of methods to obtain information, such as reading, listening, touching, or smelling, so it is important that your child have a variety of methods as well.

Regardless of what alternate media your child uses, it is important that all printed material be made accessible to her. In addition to textbooks and worksheets she needs access to:

  • information on bulletin boards, white boards, and chalk boards
  • maps and other pictorial material
  • standardized tests
  • lunch menus, signs, notices to students, etc.

Access to all aspects of the school curriculum takes a coordinated effort between you, your child, the teacher of students with visual impairments, and the classroom teacher. Discussing ahead of time what materials will be used and devising strategies to make sure the teacher of students with visual impairments has ample time to prepare them is essential to your child's school success.

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